In its hunt for a playoff berth, Charlotte (37-34-1-2) entered the game tied at 77 points with both the Rockford IceHogs and Oklahoma City Barons for the eighth Western Conference playoff spot. With only two games remaining on their schedule, the Checkers’ loss all but extinguishes their playoff chances. After today’s match with the Griffins, Rockford has one game in hand to Charlotte, while Oklahoma City has two.
Now two points shy of the century mark, Grand Rapids (46-22-2-4) would clinch the Midwest Division title with a Chicago Wolves regulation loss to the IceHogs tonight.
The Griffins will return to Van Andel Arena for their regular season home finale against the Lake Erie Monsters on Friday, before closing out their 76-game schedule with a rematch against Lake Erie on Saturday. Both games will begin at 7 p.m.
At 13:51 of the first period, Charlotte’s Philippe Cornet scooped up Matthew Corrente’s rebound and swiftly put the puck past McCollum, who was still sprawled on the ice from the initial save, to put the Checkers up 1-0.
The Griffins finally solved Checkers netminder John Muse at 19:21 of the first frame, when Cory Emmerton hammered in a loose puck on the right doorstep for a power play tally to even the score, 1-1. Muse earned shutouts in both of his previous two appearances against Grand Rapids this season, rendering the Griffins scoreless for an impressive 139:21 until Emmerton’s goal.
Trevor Parkes cracked Muse for the game-winner at 11:05 of the second period by flicking Nathan Paetsch’s rebound over the goaltender’s shoulder, giving the Griffins a 2-1 lead.
Deep in the second, Paetsch rifled the puck into Muse’s wide-open cage, but the goal was called off due to goaltender interference by Landon Ferraro. Tangling with Charlotte in front of the net, Ferraro was nudged by Mark Flood and fell on top of Muse just before Paetsch’s shot.
A scoreless third period had its fair share of action, as McCollum turned away all 14 of the Checkers’ shots. The Griffins only managed to toss the puck at Muse five times before he was pulled in the final moments of the game in favor of an extra attacker. A last-minute blasting of the Grand Rapids net nearly saw the Checkers tie the game, but a sturdy McCollum diffused all of Charlotte’s attacks for the victory.
McCollum earned first-star honors with 35 saves, and Muse finished with 25.
Notes: Defenseman Ryan Sproul made his NHL debut with Detroit this afternoon, becoming the 145th Griffins alumnus to play in the NHL. 16 former Griffins were on Detroit’s roster in its 3-0 road victory over the St. Louis Blues. Petr Mrazek earned a 23-save shutout in the Wings’ final regular season game, his second shutout for the club in 11 career NHL games.
Three Stars: 1. GR McCollum (W, 35 saves); 2. GR Emmerton (goal); 3. CHA Cornet (goal)